I want to be the next Porno King of Hong Kong!
Take this image to bed with you tonight. Louis Koo surrounded by a vast
sea of naked female breasts. Breasts to the right of him, breasts to the
left of him, breasts looking him square in the eye and others shyly staying
behind him. Seventy naked breasts all keeping him company as he calmly
sits there chatting with an interviewer (Bey Logan) about his life as the
publisher of a weekly magazine on the sex industry in Hong Kong. Not in
the least bit fazed by this buffet of goodies, Koo tells Bey that over
the past couple of years he has seen over 10,000 naked breasts and so this
is nothing new to him. Ya, it’s good to be a Porno King – or is it?
The sex industry has played a large role in Hong
Kong films for a long time with club hostesses and prostitutes often being
central or peripheral characters in hundreds upon hundreds of movies. Though
one almost begins to take it for granted after a while, it is really rather
a strange phenomenon that is like no other film industry in the world.
In Hong Kong, the prostitute drama is truly a genre of its own and there
are very few actresses that have not played a prostitute/bar girl at some
point in their career. The last two years has seen some interesting twists
on this genre – first with the wonderful Golden Chicken that explored the
life of a prostitute from youth to middle age and then two recent films
have shown the sex industry from the other side – from the perspective
of the man - in the comedic Men Suddenly in Black in which five friends
make a night of whoring and this film, Naked Ambition, that is about men
surveying the sex industry. Though I enjoyed Men Suddenly in Black quite
a bit, I was disappointed in that I felt it pulled its punches and didn’t
have the nerve to cross the line into dubious morality – i.e. none of the
men get laid for all their trying. Naked Ambition isn’t as good a film
as Men Suddenly in Black in many ways, but I admired it for crossing that
moral line and throwing the question back at the male viewer – how differently
would we have acted?
Andy (Koo) and John (Eason Chan) both work for
a magazine and are made redundant together. Along with some of their other
redundant co-workers they decide to open a magazine of their own. But what
kind of magazine they ponder – the only ones that seem to make money are
academic ones or porno ones – with naked women dancing through their heads
like sugar plum fairies they wisely choose . . . porno. This isn’t just
another typical pornographic magazine filled with page after page of naked
women though – this is a guide – sort of a Zagats of the sex industry.
In it they want to inform their readers of the do’s and don’ts and who
does what and who does it well. A consumer report in other words. This
sort of information of course entails field work – lots and lots of field
work as Andy and John visit all sorts of establishments from massage parlors
to hostess bars to small brothels to solo entrepreneurs in apartments.
Initially they meet with resistance from the owners
of these places but once these owners learn that a good review in the magazine
will lead to a rush of new business (“a room filled with horny sperm”)
and lines out the door and exhausted lock-jawed workers, they happily co-operate.
Even the triads (Tats Lau) beat a path to their doors with hopes of getting
their places mentioned favorably in the magazine. Both men have girlfriends
(Cherry Ying and Denise Ho) and so they have a strict hands off the goods
policy and simply report what they observe – at least for a while. They
meet some interesting and colorful women in their travels. Titty Bird (Jo
Koo) who cheerfully advertises her “big bouncy tits”, Kiki (Nicky Chow)
who is a drinking game expert and tends to pass out during sex and of course
Tess Tickles (get it?) played very gamely by Josie Ho who is a master of
the fire and ice technique* in oral sex. She is also my calendar girl for
the month because my doctor has informed me that I need to eat lots of
bananas for my potassium deficiency and this is certainly a good reminder!
This all sounds like great fun of course but behind
the sex, the naked breasts, the money and the fame what does it all mean
and is it really fulfilling. Hell yes! I mean – no of course it isn’t –
not when you hurt the people you love and in the end that seems to be the
message of the film. It seems that films like this always have to contain
that sort of dour message in the end as if everyone would otherwise run
out and try to be a Porno King and the film doesn’t want to be irresponsible.
There is lots to like in the film – though its two-hour running time could
easily have been cut to make it tighter – a charismatic performance from
Koo, a solid one from Eason, some great supporting roles, an interesting
story line (based I believe on a true story) and every one of those seventy
At the same time the film never takes on the substance
that one feels the filmmakers (Dante Lam and Chan Hing-kar) may have been
aiming for (ala the Citizen Kane of Porno producers) – it is very much
at its best when it is simply being outrageous and fun – and becomes a
bit tedious when it gets serious. My very favorite Hong Kong DVD store
worker Paul at Lai Ying told me that the film has some hilarious dialogue/puns/double
entendres that are completely missed in the subtitles.
* Fire and Ice – alternating mouthfuls of ice
cubes and hot tea – please be careful!
My rating for this film: 7.0